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Why Pushing your Autistic Kids out of Home may be Good for them

Catchy title aside, I'm not about to suggest that you need to kick all your autistic kids out of home. I want to cover one specific recent instance for us and I want to look at the reasons why we believed that it would work while others thought it might fail. Why we did it anyway and why we feel it is succeeding.

Image by Jose Antonio Alba from Pixabay

Kids who Stall

We have a lot of friends and relatives who have kids on and off the spectrum who have "stalled". By stalling, I mean that they've become;

  • Permanently at home
  • Often Unemployed
  • Caught in unproductive routines (TV, Gaming, Extra Sleeping, Overuse of Routine)
Often stalling is linked to other obsessions, such as computer gaming but it also appears in non-gamers and active kids. People can get into a stall pattern simply by filling their entire lives up with chores and leaving no room for themselves to forge ahead. 

There are a lot of reasons why stalling has become common in the last couple of generations including increased government support, increased tolerance for "stalled behavior", better social services, lack of affordable housing and difficulty finding jobs.

I haven't seen much research on stalling but given the statistics for autistic employment, which show that autistic people are more likely to be unemployed or "under-employed" (meaning that they are doing jobs far below their capabilities), I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that autistic people have a greater risk of stalling than neurotypicals. 

Fear of the unknown is one of the key drivers of stalling. Individuals and couples fear to move on with their lives, to look at houses or at starting a family because they're afraid of the future. Sometimes they're afraid to commit, often it's the fear of failure and sometimes it's simply a case of individuals being too budget conscious. I have several friends who wanted children but never had them because "they couldn't afford them" and yet, there are people living in far worse circumstances with children. If you want something badly enough, you'll find a way to have it. 

My wife and I have had a lot of conversations over the years about the risk of our kids stalling and we decided that we would push our babies out of the nest at appropriate ages to reduce the chance of it happening.

Life Skills and Preparation

Birds can't simply push their young out of the nest without teaching them to fly. The results would not be pretty. The same applies to people. You have to teach your babies how to live in the wide world and you need the right sort of conditions to ensure that they are able to thrive. 

Life skills has always been on our agenda. When our sons were young, we enrolled them in the local cub scouts program. There, they learned cooking, working with others and other general coping and life skills. 

We would give them money send them off to buy themselves a doughnut from ages 3 and 4 (and watch carefully from a few tables away in the food courts). Sometimes they'd lose their money on the way or they'd try to choose things that were out of their price range. Often their cuteness would get them a better deal. Almost 20 years later, our local doughnut shop owners still remember them fondly.

We usually involve our kids in our daily life and decisions and even when shopping with young children, we'd give them tasks, like "buy some honey" but would put constraints on it, like, "get the cheapest one". They would need to compare prices and weights to determine what was a bargain and what was just clever marketing. 

We would use occasional chores as learning tools and would get them involved in all manner of housework from cleaning toilets, to washing dishes and clothes. The tasks often weren't done to a high standard but they still resulted in a learning experience. 

Our kids still don't pick up after themselves but we'll often call them down from their respective rooms to "clean up their mess in the kitchen". It's important that they "own their mess".

Neither of my sons are driving. My eldest has his learner plates and has done lessons but lacks the confidence (and the interest) to drive. He's a good saver and he's worked out that the cost of keeping a car is higher than the cost of public transport. 

When they were younger, I used to take my kids on trips around the city. We'd catch all manner of transport and I'd make them read the signs at the bus, train and ferry stations and tell me which to catch. This continued into their young adult years where I did this on overseas trips and in non-English speaking countries. It's not necessary to teach your kids to translate languages but finding connections in a totally unfamiliar place was great practice. Finding your way around is a critical life skill. 

In Australia, unlike our US and UK counterparts, it's unusual for kids to leave home to go to college/university. In the capital cities, university is often an easy commute from home. While this is comfortable, it deprives our kids of the opportunity to try out living by themselves in a controlled environment. The best we could do as parents, was to go on holidays and leave our kids at home to fend for themselves. We started with weekends and worked up to longer mini-breaks. 

The Right Conditions

The other thing that needs to be right before your babies can leave home is that conditions in their lives need to be right. 

There's no point in pushing a young adult with no income source out of the house. They need a job first. They need to have been in that job for a while, perhaps a year, and they need to be earning at least a bit above the combined costs of rent and food. You can't push your children out onto the poverty line. 

If you have unreliable or party-obsessed young adults. If your kids are in with the wrong crowds, often get into fights or have substance abuse problems or peer-exploitable weaknesses, these issues will prevent them from thriving when they move out. If your kids throw wild "out of control" parties when you leave the house, they probably don't have the maturity required to live by themselves. 

Our Son

In our case, our son is very much a loner. He has a good job and he's been waking up (usually with lots of assistance) on time for work every day for about three years. He has a lot of issues with cleaning up after himself but is capable of doing this with a lot of encouragement.

We were quite worried about getting him to move out but we'd also observed that he was becoming less like a son and more like an unruly tenant at home. 

He would make a mess and not clean it up. He would hardly converse with his brother, parents or visitors and would choose to spend his nights sitting alone playing computer games and his weekends sleeping in well past midday. 

We helped him find a place where repayments and living expenses wouldn't break the bank. We were fortunate in that we found a place not too far from our home and close to transport. We did provide some financial assistance but it comes with a clause about keeping the place tidy. It's still early days but it seems, so far, that the move has been successful. 

We kept a copy of the keys in case he locks himself out and I'm very surprised that we haven't had to use them yet. I was also impressed to find that he's attached a tracker to his keys that sends an alert to his phone if he strays too far from them. He's using technology to deal with his shortcomings. 

We're visiting about once a fortnight and the place isn't as tidy as we'd like it. Unfortunately on our visits, we spend a little time straightening things out but we were pleased to see that he's doing his washing. That's a step in the right direction. 

We've also noticed that our son has been happier out on his own and that he's calling home more often and wanting to talk to us. I think he's a little lonely even though he always says that he isn't when we ask. I think it's important that he doesn't get too much time with "mum and dad" and that the time we spend is positive and leaves him (and us) wanting more. 

Moving out seems to have done wonders for his self confidence and for his relationship with his family. It might not work for everyone but if the conditions are right and your young adult has the right preparation and if they're starting to feel more like a tenant than a family member, it may be the right move to make.  

The label of autism does not and should not prevent a person from achieving independence. 

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